Major research in this area is still a work in progress
Lots of dietary styles have been hailed for their ability to ease symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Some tout going gluten-free, while others suggest adding supplements or emphasize more fruits and vegetables. We’re all for a healthy diet, of course (for everybody, not just people with MS), but before you embark on any major dietary change, you should know if it really works. Also note that there’s precious little research in this area, so the science may not yet exist to support the theories.
Here’s what we know:
Gluten-free diet. Eliminating gluten is popular right now (and has been suggested for a whole host of ailments, not just MS). While this might work for people with Celiac disease or gluten allergies, there’s no evidence it does anything for people with MS.
Wahls diet. This diet stresses nine cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Though upping your fruits and veggies quotient is healthy, most folks struggle to eat the eight servings recommended for everyone. Fearful of falling short of the servings, you might be tempted to turn to supplements instead of the real thing, and that’s not a good idea. It could even be harmful. Add to that studies don’t yet show that this many fruits and vegetables have any real effect on MS.
Swank diet. Developed more than 60 years ago, the Swank diet is low in saturated fat, polyunsaturated oils and red or fatty meats (no red meat is allowed for the first year), and high in vegetables and grains. The diet recommends patients use fat-free dairy products; egg whites; whole grain cereals, pastas and rice; fruits; nuts and seeds; vegetables; unsaturated fats; lean, skinned poultry and white fish. Experts and dietitians alike agree this is a healthy way to eat, but it can be hard to maintain over the long haul.
Oil change. A few studies showed promise in a diet low in saturated fat and supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. But a 2012 review of research did not find any benefit for omega-3s and omega-6s. For now, the findings are inconclusive.
Vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked with more severe MS symptoms. The body makes vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, and MS is more common in parts of the world that get less direct sun. So taking vitamin D supplements is a good idea, right? Not so fast. Studies results aren’t in yet. Before going this route, ask your doctor to test your vitamin D blood level, especially in light of recent news that vitamin D deficiency might be over-diagnosed in black folks.
So there’s no miracle MS diet cure, but some dietary changes may be good for your health:
Cut the fat and increase fiber. You could be getting too much saturated fat and not enough fiber in your diet. Cutting one while boosting the other might help you avoid heart disease, high cholesterol and other chronic illnesses.
Stay away from radical diets. If it’s untested or seems extreme, chances are it could be harmful.
Questions? Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. In fact, do that anyway, before you embark on any new eating plan.